Baltimore Hebrew University President Robert O. Freedman announced last night that he will resign his post at the end of this academic year to devote more time to his scholarly interests: the politics of Russia and the Middle East.
Freedman, who has been president since the 1995 death of his predecessor, Norma Furst, made the announcement at the end of graduation ceremonies at the Park Heights campus. The audience responded with an extended standing ovation.
"In sum, this has been a wonderful 5 1/2 years for me as president of BHU, but all good things must come to an end," Freedman said. "At heart I am a scholar, and my two areas of scholarly interest -- Russia and the Middle East -- are going through such interesting transformations that I would like to devote more time to studying them and then teaching about them."
Freedman said he would go on sabbatical next year to work on his latest book, "Russia and the Middle East Since the Collapse of the Soviet Union."
Freedman said his decision was influenced in part by a dispute between the BHU board of trustees and its major supporter, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
A task force of The Associated, which gives the school $1.1 million annually that accounts for nearly half of BHU's budget, has criticized the school for not providing more practical classes for people preparing to be Jewish teachers, and urged the school to increase the number of adult education courses. BHU officials, however, do not want to do this at the expense of a focus on more purely academic research.
"[The dispute] dealt with questions about our view of where we were going" as an academic institution, Freedman said after his announcement. "There were some differences of opinion of what the mission should be."
"He's a person of extreme integrity," said Rabbi Mark Loeb, president of BHU's board of trustees. "He felt he had done what he could to advance the university's programs. Now with things in flux and some question, he felt it was time for others to carry the burden."
Erica Weisman, who received her bachelor's degree last night in Judaic studies, wrote a letter to Freedman that he read during the graduation ceremony. The letter said her time at BHU helped her "to be a better person and an educated Jew."
Weisman lamented Freedman's departure. "He is such a nice guy," she said. "He makes this place feel like home the way he interacts with teachers and students."
Freedman, 59, has written or edited 16 books. He earned his doctorate from Columbia University in 1969 and has taught at Marquette University in Milwaukee, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and George Washington University.